Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Opportunities with global universities; schools use information technologies; Monash Primary School involved in Travel Buddy Project; Aussie Schoolhouse Internet site launched; Caulfield Grammar School sets up campus in China.

JANE FIGGIS: This morning, we've got the internationalising of Australian education on the agenda; from a Melbourne school setting up a campus in China for its Year 9 students, to the threats and opportunities being opened up by the concept of global universities. Entwined through that are the changing information technologies. So most of the people you'll hear this morning will talk about internationalising, about the new technologies, and about the real meaning of education. People like Dr Denis Blight, Executive Director of IDP Education Australia. He's just back from running a major conference in Singapore on the global university, a conference which from all accounts, was extremely successful.

DENIS BLIGHT: A bit surprising how well it worked. But it worked because we had both people from the pedagogical teaching end and people from the high tech end. We also had people from the developing world and the developed world. Brenda Gourlay, who's Vice-Chancellor of the University of Natal in South Africa, set the theme by saying, 'Do you realise that in my country, there are hundreds of thousands of people - millions of people -with no telephones, and are never going to have a telephone, and no electricity?' And that put a different cast on the whole conference, got us away a bit from the gee-whiz-bangery of the new technologies, back to pedagogy, back to research, back to teaching, back to what universities are about.

Then at the other end, we had people like Sir David Putnam, who comes obviously from a media background - Chariots of Fire, and so on; you could almost hear the music playing when he spoke - has got some great ideas about the use of media, hypermedia, multimedia, in the delivery of education internationally. So that's not to discount technology because it does open our horizons, it does let us dream a little more, imagine a little more imaginatively, about what we might do.

JANE FIGGIS: Denis Blight has already organised his next conference on international education and the role of technology in it, for Adelaide in October. His feeling is that we, Australia, have considerable sophistication in the area.

DENIS BLIGHT: There's a cadre of international educators now. We're trying to add to it and grow it each year. But there's a group now in Australia, I would say, of about a thousand or so, people that have been involved in this international education field quite specifically, for 10 years or so. Mal Logan made the point in his presentation in Singapore that the new technologies now make it possible for us, and for others, to get access to the lecturer who is recognised as the top in his or her field globally. Now, a lot of those best in the world are in Australia, and it gives us the possibility of making the best that Australia has to offer internationally.

JANE FIGGIS: How much is the reverse happening? How much is Australia being penetrated by courses, degrees, from overseas?

DENIS BLIGHT: It's still a very small component of what's happening, but the potential is there. You can now get to a number of international courses on the Net or on the Web, and they are being offered.

JANE FIGGIS: Are you monitoring that? Is that your job?

DENIS BLIGHT: Well, it probably is; I'm not sure that anyone's monitoring it. In a regulatory sense, it's the job of the Australian authorities and I suppose the universities themselves. It would be my job in the sense to see whether that's going to introduce some competition for us internationally. At the moment, it's a very, very small part of what's happening. The bulk of education is being done by and large by traditional means. The global university is just a dot on the matrix of international education. But it will happen. Well, it's a threat, or it's an opportunity.

What we're trying to do in Adelaide in fact is say, 'Look, here is a vision of the global university, and it will frighten some people. It is frightening, it's risky, it's dangerous, there's all sorts of problems in front of us, but it's going to happen whether we like it or not.' And we're going to illustrate that by some case studies. We've got I think seven case studies which are being prepared for us by Shirley Alexander.

JANE FIGGIS: With the work that Shirley is doing, I mean, is she looking at things like John Daniels' open university, where he's talking about mega universities - are those what you mean by global universities?

DENIS BLIGHT: What we'll be looking at includes that, but also includes brokering systems whereby agencies or companies or organisations set themselves up. There's one in America at the moment that sets itself up and has relationships with - for want of a better word -traditional universities, which enables this brokering company to deliver its courses, its degrees, anywhere in the world. It sets up the physical, technical facilities that enables that to happen. And that sort of development is starting to mushroom now.

JANE FIGGIS: That's that image of everybody in the world wanting a Harvard MBA.

DENIS BLIGHT: That's right. Because if everyone out in the world has a Harvard MBA, they might well be devalued.

JANE FIGGIS: Denis Blight. He can be contacted at IDP in Canberra about the Tenth Australian International Education Conference, starting in Adelaide, 1 October. We've also got the details.

Sandra Wills, Associate Professor and Director of Educational Media Services at the University of Wollongong, ran a conference actually putting into practice all the globalising technologies: it was a virtual conference, although some hardy souls did venture to the on-site hub in Canberra last week.

SANDRA WILLS: We used the Web a lot: a) for advertising the Conference, but b) for actually starting the discussion about the various topics of the Conference. We had seven topics that were being discussed, one of which was universities, one of which was schools, one of which was special needs, and so on. And we actually started those discussions quite a way before the conference, so that people could do research, reflect on what they were doing, put their papers up, build new links to what they were doing, and by the time they got to the conference there was quite a resource sitting on the Web, waiting for others who had only just begun to start searching through that.

So I thought it was quite funny. I said to people, 'Well, we've had to change the whole conference format. We don't have half-hour papers and coffee breaks at 10.30, we're just having seven half-day events, and the events sort of start when there's enough people in the room. So we were turning everything on its head, and I think that the feeling was, yes, this was an interesting experience, but a lot of people felt quite uncomfortable with it.

JANE FIGGIS: Yes, I can well imagine. I know that you've always cared a lot about that social dimension to conferences, particularly in a format like this.

SANDRA WILLS: Yes. What we did was instead of having a conference venue that had a lecture theatre format, we in fact set up an Internet Cafe, so we had 80 machines in the ballroom of the Convention Centre, all of them connected to the Internet. And that was meant to be a social venue as well as the learning venue, and there was quite a lot of discussion about what's required to assist learning.

Dale Spender, who was our final keynote speaker, the only formal keynote speaker we had, suggested that she's been doing quite a lot of research in Internet Cafes asking students why do they prefer the Internet Cafe in their university, or near their university, to going to a library. And they've all said, 'Well, the library's too quiet. We like the noise of the Internet Cafe; we like to drink coffee, and you're not allowed to take coffee into a library.' And the kids today just prefer learning in a more social environment.

So we had a lot of discussion about that at the conference because, unfortunately, our Internet Cafe didn't actually have some coffee. We were meant to have, but something went wrong and we didn't get the coffee. So we tried to socialise without the coffee, and it was noticed that that's harder, it's much harder; you need the coffee, or preferably the champagne if it's evening time.

JANE FIGGIS: One of the topics that you had that interested me particularly was the one titled: 'Can the Virtual University Deliver Real Learning?' which I rather liked. Now, that's been discussed in quite a series of conferences that have been going on this year. Where are we in people's thinking about that?

SANDRA WILLS: My feeling about it - and this is how I closed Dale's talk - was that I've been working in this area for 24 years, and I don't think computers in education is an innovation. And 24 years is a long time to be talking about it, and how much more reflection do we have to do? I think it is time to be really seriously looking at how some of us - not all of us, but how some of us - restructure.

JANE FIGGIS: So you're really saying that we do need to crank up the heat a little bit?

SANDRA WILLS: There's I think, tremendous excitement at the moment about the virtual university becoming a reality. Partly, this is caused by the funding cutbacks that are occurring at the moment in Australia, but also in other countries overseas. So management of universities is looking very carefully at whether this can be a cost saving exercise, to go virtual, and I would say that from the discussions at the conference, many universities are restructuring rapidly to position themselves to take full advantage of these


But it's interesting as to whether you can change your traditional university into a new university, or whether you actually have to start from scratch. Some people feel it's almost impossible to gradually integrate this stuff. And businesses have also said the same thing. So if you talk to people about business process re-engineering, there are some people who say that you can integrate this slowly, bottom up, top down, trying to meet in the middle, working out new ways of doing things, and others say that's impossible because people will never change. So that you have to totally re-engineer and just start from scratch. And that's really the debate I think, that we're caught in. Do we continue to try and gradually change people and the way we do things, or do we just start again, do we start a new university?

JANE FIGGIS: Sandra Wills, from the University of Wollongong. There's several more conferences coming up which address these issues. One major one is the 50th Anniversary Fulbright Symposium organised by Monash University. In fact, when I asked Stephen Matchett just to give me a brief overview of the symposium, he sounded almost like Sandra's echo.

STEPHEN MATCHETT: I think when historians look back in a hundred years time, they'll probably see the two crucial events of the late 20th century being the defeat of Communism and the birth of the global classroom, the creation of the education opportunities made possible by the Internet, or the subordinate multimedia technologies. And that's what this conference is about, because the technology is there, but we're way behind in understanding how we can use it in terms of education.

It's the same in the commercial world: you can look at a situation now where virtually every major corporation has got a Net site. You've got the media putting their newspapers up, but no one's actually sure why: how they're going to make money out of it, what it's there to do. And education faces the same sort of problems, and in an environment of declining public resources, the Net, CD ROMs, all sorts of interactive education, offer us the best opportunity we've got at the moment to compensate for the end of an era where public resources aren't as available as they've been in the past.

JANE FIGGIS: For registration details about the Fulbright Symposium, which is from 10 to 12 October, you can contact Stephen Matchett at Monash, or you can call us for the details.

At the school level, there is perhaps no better mark of the phenomena than the visit this month to Australia of the American founder and Executive Director of the Global SchoolNet Foundation, which presents the Global Schoolhouse. He's Al Rogers, and he's here to launch the Aussie Schoolhouse Internet site.

Al Rogers was a fourth grade teacher in California with an interest in computers. Actually, he started getting his pupils to use e-mail 12 years ago. So I asked him first about what tricks were needed to get youngsters to write well in the Internet because, to be frank, I've seen some pen-pal type e-mails which are pretty uninspiring.

AL ROGERS: It really is important that the teachers develop a variety of strategies to provide enough structure around the activities that the students have plenty of content to write about. And that, indeed, is one of the principles behind the Travel Buddy Project. I have in front of me a little woodchuck that comes from a first grade classroom in St. Louis, Missouri, and my charge is to deliver 'Woodsy' to a second grade classroom in Monash School in Canberra. In the process, and as he's travelled with me across the ocean and through Sydney here, and I'm going to hold on to him for another week or so, he's writing all about his adventures and his travels; and I'm helping him a little bit, of course, but when he gets to his ultimate destination, what's going to happen is each child who takes Woodsy under his wing, takes him home and they are going to become Woodsy's alter ego for the evening, or for the weekend, or for the trip, and they're going to tell about Woodsy's adventures to this classroom back in St. Louis.

So what you have to do is look for clever strategies like this that draw the students in and give them structure, and these students will become eager writers as a result, and eager readers.

JANE FIGGIS: When a teacher - let's say a Year 4 teacher - wants to look for projects like this, I mean there are lots of them on the Internet suggested by teachers and various people - how do you begin to decide which is the best one, or the right one to go for?

AL ROGERS: As teachers find a project that looks like it might be interesting, they'll send a message off to the teacher who's suggesting or coordinating that project, and they'll engage in a dialogue. And it's not too difficult for teachers to find people with whom they are compatible: they're interested, they have mutual goals. So you do, in addition to shopping for something that you can give to your students, you also have to work at building a relationship. And at one and the same time, that's one of the most exciting things about this, but at the same time it's so different from what teachers are used to doing that they can at times feel intimidated approaching it from that standpoint.

JANE FIGGIS: Because the connections and resources and the ideas provided by the Aussie Schoolhouse and SchoolNet cost money, and because the sites come imprinted with the sponsorship logos of Microsoft and a whole bunch of telecommunications providers, I asked Al Rogers what the role of the sponsors is.

AL ROGERS: We look for corporate support to support the non-profit activities that we're doing. You're right, it does cost money, but our goal, in our 12 years of experience of providing services to schools and teachers and children, we've never charged teachers for anything; we've always been able to find the corporate support. Because we are non-profit, and we are independent, and we adhere to the vision of the welfare of teachers and students, we don't promote any particular software platform, hardware platform; we focus on good teaching, good learning and the welfare and benefit of our children.

JANE FIGGIS: Obviously then, one of the things you must be monitoring very carefully and thinking about is that as the Internet has more and more of a business flavour, at least for businesses, the concern, I guess, and caution we all feel about watching prices on these things.

AL ROGERS: Well, yes. One of the things we are seeing is some grassroots movement to help in schools to get connected, and one of the big events that occurred last March in California, which is where I'm from, was an event called Net Day, which is being replicated on a national basis this October, and this is a grassroots movement to help communities gather forces on a volunteer basis around their schools and have a day where volunteers will report to the various schools in their communities, and help them actually build local area network wiring. And a lot of schools in California in March benefited very greatly from that. A lot of schools didn't understand what Net Day was all about, and they didn't realise that, once they got the wires in, somebody needed to provide computers for them, too. So schools have a lot of learning and a lot of catching up to do.

But I think that through a combination of local interest, local support and government support, the job will be done. I don't think - at least not in the United States - I don't think the Federal Government is going to be able to do it all, I think it's going to take a lot of grassroots and local support for the job to get done.

JANE FIGGIS: Al Rogers. He thinks that's probably the case here, too.

At Alexandra Secondary College, which is about two hours north-east of Melbourne, on the other side of the Dividing Range, students use somewhat more traditional technologies - the telephone and the tape recorder - but to great effect, in a program that originated with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Education Office: Talk Back Classrooms, to encourage students to interview politicians.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: It was really different from a normal classroom situation, and you really had to get into it to get something out of it. A lot of people at first just weren't ready to interview people or to just put their hand up and say, 'Yes, I'll do it,' and I was a bit like that. And it was just great at the end of it to have the confidence to do that.

JANE FIGGIS: Why did you not feel that in the beginning? What was holding you back?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: I guess it was just kind of intimidating, and I'd never seen myself as really an extrovert or anything like that.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: At the first few interviews, we just read off a list of questions and it really didn't flow. But then further on and further on, some of them turned really into conversations and that was really, really good.

JANE FIGGIS: So have you actually now become more politically active yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Well, very definitely. I never really had any idea of what I wanted to do until probably the start of the new term, which was when I did Talk Back Classroom, and that's where the ideas came from.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: I don't want to really get into a career that has anything to do with politics or journalism, or anything like that; that's just not my scene really. But it's just really helped me with my confidence. Before I started doing this, I'd try and get up in front of a class to do a talk or something, and I'd keep stuttering and saying 'Um' and 'Ah' and I just couldn't talk in front of people. But now I can just get up there and talk, and it doesn't bother me at all.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: I liked doing the interviews. I think I've learnt more how to keep an interview going. Like when I first started, I pretty much just read from a piece of paper, and then Mr Cutting took the paper away from us half-way through an interview and I really stressed out at first, but then it wasn't so bad because it was more like turning into a conversation when you didn't have the paper.

JANE FIGGIS: Stephen Cutting is the proud teacher of those students.

STEPHEN CUTTING: The whole idea of the thing, the immediacy of talking with prominent people, the involvement of media and so on, is a really big motivator in itself. One of the most difficult things involved in the project is to have them really listen effectively. I've talked to them a lot about the need to listen during interviews, because there is a tendency when they're interviewing to work from a script - you know, a list of questions - and to ask a question and then to sort of just lose concentration. So taking the questions away from them is a pretty brutal way of doing that, but I'm a believer that the greater challenges you put in front of kinds, the more they will come up to your expectations.

JANE FIGGIS: Do the politicians mind spending the time with this?

STEPHEN CUTTING: No, they seem to love it. I rarely get knocked back by a politician to do an interview. I mean, Gareth Evans gave us the greatest endorsement: he said, you know, that it was a really good way to access politicians because normally politicians have to visit schools and so on, and he liked it because he could just sit in his office and talk to us.

JANE FIGGIS: And there was someone who was in her car on a car phone.

STEPHEN CUTTING: Yes, we've done a number on car phones. I think Natasha Stott-Despoja was on the car phone somewhere in Adelaide; and we did one with Tim Fischer, and he was at a cattle sale with a mobile phone, so we could hear the cows bellowing behind him. And Pat McNamara was on a car phone somewhere. So they're in all sorts of interesting places when we talk to them. Elizabeth Gore was in a public telephone box somewhere in Sydney.

JANE FIGGIS: Stephen Cutting from Alexandra Secondary College in Victoria, and his students before him.

Caulfield Grammar School is a large co-educational independent school, with three Melbourne campuses, a rural campus at Yarra Junction; and now it has started building a fifth campus - in China. Stephen Newman is the Principal of Caulfield Grammar.

STEPHEN NEWMAN: We visited about 18 schools in different parts of China, and we did find, I have to say, strong support and strong interest for the project amongst each of the schools that we visited. But it was Nanjing Middle School where we felt the best match would be found with our own school: looking at the shared vision, looking at the students and their interests, looking at the academic program, the facilities, we could just see that our students and the students of Nanjing Middle School really would cooperate well. But we looked at a number.

JANE FIGGIS: The project itself is, you're actually building a residential hall, you're not building a school school.

STEPHEN NEWMAN: No, that's right, Jane. We're building a residential facility that will accommodate our students, the permanent staff will be based there delivering the program, providing work areas for our students, dining areas and the like, and also it will incorporate an Australian Study Centre, which will be accessed by students from Nanjing Middle School. Our facility is to be constructed on land that's been made available to us immediately adjoining the school.

JANE FIGGIS: You're going to have seven of your staff sort of permanently based there. That struck me as quite a large number.

STEPHEN NEWMAN: Well, we are concerned clearly that the program be delivered strongly for our students. We anticipate groups of 40 students from Australia taking part over each five-week period. The staff are going to be specialists in a number of different areas. Some, for example, will be there with a very detailed knowledge of China; others will be there because of their knowledge of the needs of Year 9 students, 15-year-old girls and boys; others will be there obviously with their strong commitment to internationalism, and sharing the vision for what this project can be. They're pretty important, clearly, to the success of the project, and we think that number, with the different skills and interest that each will bring, will ensure that the program really will be delivered very strongly.

JANE FIGGIS: It's an interesting, innovative program, but also unusual for an independent school to take quite such a bold step. I knew that Stephen Newman had been thinking about it for quite a while - I didn't realise it went back as far as August 1993 - nor exactly what had inspired it.

STEPHEN NEWMAN: The story that has led to this project began with some thinking that was being done along the lines of establishing a campus away from our metropolitan campuses in Melbourne, because we felt that by taking students from what was familiar in terms of their school and their family, and placing them in an unfamiliar environment, that they would have the opportunity to learn far more about themselves - an enormous set of opportunities for personal development, to experience different things, to discover new talents, to work with a peer group in a community environment and so on, we saw as providing tremendous opportunities for personal growth and development.

At the same time, though, we were also very much looking towards what the future held for our students in other areas, and as part of this we were looking at internationalism because we think that our students will live and work overseas perhaps far more than we or their grandparents have done. So at the same time as we were considering a remote campus for our school and the personal development opportunities that that would present, we were also thinking about internationalism and how we could prepare our students for their membership of the global community, and giving them a greater feeling of confidence in their ability to live in other parts of the world apart from Australia.

I think it's a tremendous time to be involved in schools today. I think the options, opportunities for students and therefore for schools to capitalise on, are just tremendous, and this is an example of that. We've taken three years to develop this project, sure, but we've involved our school community all the way through. And the support that we're receiving now, with the project going ahead strongly, has been due very much to the involvement of

our school community in the process.

Caulfield Grammar School is really becoming a learning community, not just on the part of students, but members of staff, and parents and past students, this project has involved us all. It's been a tremendous growth experience I think for the whole school.

JANE FIGGIS: I'm also interested in your very clear view of the world that these students are going into, and the place of internationalising in that. Do you talk to the students directly about this view that you believe that they will not only be changing jobs a lot during their lifetimes, but having to probably live outside of Australia for part of that? I mean, that's a kind of scary scenario for people.

STEPHEN NEWMAN: We do talk about it a great deal within our school. I really see much of my role as principal of a school today as looking towards what the future will be like, and then considering how we can prepare children for that future. I think the years at school are all about establishing a foundation for what is to come later, and I certainly think that we would do our students a disservice if we didn't, in a careful, structured way, introduce them to the issues that they will have to confront when they leave the sort of safe haven, with the foundation well established, that good schools provide. So while it may be challenging, I think it's our obligation, as educators today, to do what we can to prepare children. But we need to be careful in the way that we do it, as we are in our school. But it's important, and it needs to be done.

JANE FIGGIS: Did you have to begin to cost it from the beginning? Where do dollars enter into this?

STEPHEN NEWMAN: Dollars really didn't enter until about 18 months ago, other than to say that I was determined, right from the start, that if we did manage to reach a successful outcome with this project, that it had to be a project that would be open to all students in our school. I didn't want it to be a project that only some students could access. So in a sense, I guess, finance was an issue from the start, but only with the baseline view that it had to be financially accessible. The actual calculation of what was involved really didn't develop until about 18 months ago.

JANE FIGGIS: Stephen Newman, Principal of Caulfield Grammar School. In next week's Education Report, we're looking at the careers advice students get, a service that many people - including careers advisers - tend to be dissatisfied with. Also, how we're going with enterprise education, for fostering in students the habit of looking for opportunities for themselves. And a report from London about violence in schools.